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AmeriCorps VISTA

Regional Food Summit 2018 Features the Palouse Tables Project

08.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food Summit, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Michelle Blankas serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and community food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and SNAP. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas, Joe Astorino, and Ashley Vaughan of the Community Action Center presented at the Regional Food Summit in Pullman, WA to launch a regional community food security assessment, the Palouse Tables Project.

 

 

On January 27, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project was invited to talk to the community about food insecurity on the Palouse. The HAH VISTA and the site team built a case for why the food insecurity assessment was necessary and how interested people could help with that effort. One hundred and thirty community members were present and included people from two food coalitions, food pantry managers, farmers, volunteers, non-profit organizations, the media, and more. They were asked to share the values they brought to the table, which would then inform the project and, ultimately, a regional food plan based on community input.

 

A slide created by the HAH VISTA in the Palouse Tables Project.

 

The next steps in the food assessment include holding focus groups with people who use food assistance programs, household food security and shopping patterns, and local food producers. Retail food surveys will be conducted to understand what the quality and cost of foods are at food retailers and community meetings will be held to coordinate community visioning for a secure, local, healthy, and sustainable foodshed.

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New Year, New You

01.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, National Site

For many people living in poverty, eating healthy is a luxury. Eating healthy has been marketed to the masses in America as something that costs a lot of money through purchases such as gym memberships, exercise equipment, and expensive dietary foods and supplements. That is why Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Amy Reagan located in Fairfax, VA; teamed up with a Virginia Cooperative Extension SNAP-ED Program Assistant to instruct a nutrition course for the clients of Food for Others. The participating clients are learning how to eat healthy on a budget. All the recipes they learn contain food they can receive from the Food for Others pantry, including a plethora of wonderful produce. Once the 2018 gleaning season gets back into full swing, the extension agent will be able to incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables for our clients to take home with them.

 

Food for Others staff members with apples

 

In order to set a good example for their clients; the Food for Others staff is participating in a produce consumption challenge, created by Amy. Over the course of her VISTA year, Amy has noticed that there would be produce donated that the staff at Food for Others had either never seen before or had never tried. For example, one client was asking about what an acorn squash was and how to prepare it. None of the staff the client talked to knew, so she left without taking an acorn squash. When a staff member told Amy the next day about what had happened; she realized there was a great training opportunity. She created a list of 42 pictures of different fruits and vegetables that farmers had donated to Food for Others through the Virginia Food Crop Donation Tax Credit. Amy then met with each staff member to review the different produce, identify what they did not like, and note what they have not tried. This challenge will last from February 1, 2018 until December 1, 2018, to ensure that staff members try produce from Virginia’s spring, summer, and fall growing seasons.

 

Food For Others staff member eating a carrot

 

The rules to this challenge are simple:

1) You get 1 point for each item of produce you eat.
2) You can get 1 bonus point for trying a fruit or vegetable you did not already know the name of.
3) You can get 2 points for trying a fruit or vegetable you didn’t like before.
4) You can get 5 points for bringing in a client-friendly recipe for any of the produce you try.
5) Once a week you will record your total points will be recorded.

The staff member with the most points will win a $100 gift card to a grocery store.

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Harvest VISTAs Observe MLK Jr Day

19.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Food Bank, Volunteering, Washington Site

On January 15th, 2018, in communities across the country, Harvest Against Hunger VISTAs coordinated service events to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights activism, speeches, and books help us imagine a path towards a more perfect union. Here are a few examples of events Harvest VISTAs were involved in:

Harvest VISTA Kelly Pinkley, placed at Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island, WA, wrote about her site’s MLK Day events:

Today at the Good Cheer Garden, volunteers new and old joined forces to help prepare the Garden for the rapidly approaching spring season. This work could take hours, even days, if it all fell on our Garden Manager, but with the help of many hands, the entire garden was flipped. Hundreds of pounds of rescued produce, including a significant amount of winter produce from the Good Cheer Garden, was bagged for our food bank shoppers to take home.

We are so thankful for our volunteers, and could never be thankful enough to Martin Luther King Jr. for the changes he made in this country and the fight he fought for civil rights. We hope you take the time today to remember his life as we have on this day of service.

 

Harvest VISTA Tina White, who is placed at Elk Run Farm in Maple Valley, wrote about her site’s service event:

Elk Run Farm hosted 72 volunteers for a work party remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to service. Since it was January, the volunteers worked on “back-end” farm work preparing for the upcoming growing season. A new asparagus patch was born, sinks were installed in the washing and packing station, tiny bok choy starts were transplanted to the hoop house, spinach and beets were covered with re-may fabric to protect them from critters searching for food, and invasive blackberry brambles were pushed back even further, opening up potential growing space. The VISTA was excited to see volunteers of all ages working together on the farm, including a couple of professional partners (one being Harvest Against Hunger’s very own Program Director!), celebrating the legacy of Dr. King.

 

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AmeriCorps VISTA Harvest Against Hunger Program

05.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Food Bank, Gleaning, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Rachel Ryan serves at Northwest Harvest, an independent state-wide hunger relief organization with headquarters in Seattle, WA. Northwest Harvest delivers free food to more than 360 food bank and meal programs across the state, 70% of which is fruits and veggies. In an effort to expand the amount and the variety of fresh produce food programs receive, Northwest Harvest launched their Growing Connections program. Now in its third year, Growing Connections has reached over ten counties across the state, helping to provide the necessary tools and resources to assist communities with launching their own ‘Farm-to-Food Program’ (F2FP) initiatives.

 

Rachel created and edited this short film that explains the Harvest Against Hunger program from those who serve and support it directly. The footage comes from Harvest Against Hunger’s training from this past fall. Click the link below to learn more about this unique program and the impact it has in communities across the country.

 


 

 

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Whidbey Repurposes Apples

14.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning

Harvest Against Hunger has partnered with Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island to expand and support Good Cheer Gleaners, their gleaning and produce recovery program. First year VISTA Kelly Pinkley breaks down how unwanted apples can be used to make something delicious and nutritious.

 

Ever wonder what happens to the poor quality apples from gleans?

Here’s some photos from start to finish.

 

Good Cheer Food Bank has a commercial kitchen on site at their facility and our Harvest VISTA was excited to learn of the different processing projects that take place at Good Cheer. VISTA Kelly Pinkley helped to train volunteers on processing the apple seconds that are too poor quality to go straight out to the shoppers, into a value added product, apple sauce! This not only provides a healthy option of processed fresh, local produce but keeps produce from entering the waste stream, the core and peels of these apples were later thrown into the Garden worm bin to become compost.

Volunteer Paula Good hard at work peeling and coring the apples for the apple sauce!

Produce Manager Lissa Firor happily transferring the milled applesauce into cups to go out to the Good Cheer shoppers.

Finished product!

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Spokane Edible Tree Project Gleans Apples at Resurrection Orchard

07.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Nicki Thompson, who serves with the Spokane Edible Tree Project, coordinated a series of gleans at Resurrection Orchard in the Spokane Valley this autumn. 

The history of the orchard is something of a mystery to its current caretakers, who guess that the trees might have been planted in the 1940s or 1950s. Around two dozen large trees — mostly apple, with some crabapple and pear trees among them — produce varieties of fruit that predate the familiar varieties of today. One variety is presumed to be a predecessor of the common Red Delicious, bearing fruits that are smaller and more concentrated in flavor than the ubiquitous modern-day apples.

 

This year, three gleans were hosted at the orchard. Spokane Edible Tree Project’s newest distribution partner, Northwest Harvest, joined them for the first two. 3,385 pounds were taken to Northwest Harvest’s Spokane Valley warehouse for distribution to food banks and high need schools in Eastern Washington.

During the third glean, volunteers picked an additional 1,500 pounds. The apples were split between three organizations bringing food to low-income community members: 2nd Harvest, Blessings Under the Bridge, and Food For All. This season, about 4,900 pounds of apples were gleaned at the orchard with the help of roughly 50 volunteers.

Spokane Edible Tree Project continues to build strong ties with the caretakers of Resurrection Orchard. In March, they plan to co-host a grafting workshop and a scion wood exchange so community members can try growing different varieties of fruit suited to the Inland Northwest climate.

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Engaging Rural Communities in Okanogan County

20.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Rachel Ryan serves at Northwest Harvest, an independent state-wide hunger relief organization with headquarters in Seattle, WA. Northwest Harvest delivers free food to more than 360 food bank and meal programs across the state, 70% of which is fruits and veggies. In an effort to expand the amount and the variety of fresh produce food programs receive, Northwest Harvest launched their Growing Connections program. Now in its third year, Growing Connections has reached over ten counties across the state, helping to provide the necessary tools and resources to assist communities with launching their own ‘Farm-to-Food Program’ (F2FP) initiatives.

On October 30th the Growing Connections team headed to Omak, a small town of 4,833 nestled in the desert hills of north-central Washington. The purpose of their trip was to conduct an action planning workshop with the community. Growing Connections has been working in Okanogan County since 2015, and has witnessed the Farm-to-Food Bank (F2FB) movement expand to include new organizations, backyard gardeners, and passionate community members.

Attendance at the October 30th meeting was the highest it has been in the large, rural county and the distances some attendees traveled illustrated their dedication to F2FB work. With 22 community members in attendance, the group got straight to work. They spent three hours brainstorming various ways their community could unite and tackle some pressing coordination barriers that were interfering with their ability to move F2FB work forward. Based on previous work within Okanogan, and conversation with the regional planning team, the workshop focused on action-planning around three main barriers: storage; collaboration with markets; and fundraising.

As the groups got together to strategize around the current barriers, the energy in the room was palpable, and the solutions offered were original, innovative, and inclusive. For the first time, the group considered what it would mean if they formed a strong coalition that worked towards becoming a 501(c)(3) – also known as a nonprofit – organization. They also addressed who was missing from the discussion and were hopeful to bring in members from the health care community to help tackle the barriers to healthy food access. As the workshop came to a close, many attendees left with smiles on their faces, eager to get started with the work cut out and excitedly anticipating the next meeting.  

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Train-the-Trainer in Clallam County

16.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Rachel Ryan serves at Northwest Harvest, an independent state-wide hunger relief organization with headquarters in Seattle, WA. Northwest Harvest delivers free food to more than 360 food bank and meal programs across the state, 70% of which is fruits and veggies. In an effort to expand the amount and the variety of fresh produce food programs receive, Northwest Harvest launched their Growing Connections program. Now in its third year, Growing Connections has reached over ten counties across the state, helping to provide the necessary tools and resources to assist communities with launching their own ‘Farm-to-Food Program’ (F2FP) initiatives.

The Growing Connections team, in partnership with WSU Extension King County, visited Port Angeles on November 9th to present a train-the-trainer workshop to members of the Clallam County community. Clallam has been one of Growing Connections focus regions for the past eight months, and this was the third workshop that the Team has organized in the region. Clallam is also the home of the Peninsula Food Coalition, another Harvest Against Hunger VISTA (Juliann Finn), and an innovative WSU Extension office. The Peninsula Food Coalition, founded in 2016, works to increase healthy food access across Clallam County, where most residents live in food deserts. One of the areas the Coalition and previous Growing Connections workshop attendees are focusing on is increasing the knowledge of and access to fresh fruits and vegetables at community food banks – something with which the Growing Connections team was able to assist!

     

One benefit of Growing Connectionspartnerships across Washington is the ability of the program to collect and pass along best practices, innovative ideas, and new resources to interested partners. One of the recent developments they’d been following was an exciting new workshop being developed by the South King County Food Coalition and WSU Extension King County. This workshop focuses specifically on arming community volunteers with the information they need to get a food demonstration program started at their local food banks. 12 participants attended the November 9th workshop, including food bank staff and volunteers, WSU Extension staff, and staff from various civic-minded community organizations.

The training was dynamic and involved two recipe tastings: a green smoothie and a three-bean salad, both of which were received well by the group. Since the workshop last week, Juliann Finn, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA stationed in Clallam, has reported that volunteers from two of the participating food banks are moving on the momentum of the workshop to start their own food demonstration programs. This is welcome news, especially considering workshop attendees will be receiving free demonstration starter kits in December from Growing Connections. The Growing Connections team has their fingers crossed that Clallam food bank clients will be ringing in the holidays Grinch-style with green smoothies while they shop at their neighborhood pantries!

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Growing Minds at Elk Run Farm

02.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry

Elk Run Farm, built on a former golf course in South Kind County, provides produce to 12 food banks of the South King County Food Coalition.  It has been a Harvest Against hunger program since 2015.

 

Along with growing fresh produce, Elk Run Farm strives to be a community asset in Maple Valley by providing farm education for youth. Over its three years of existence, the farm has hosted many youth groups, student clubs and field trips. Starting in the 2017 school year, Elk Run Farm expanded its partnership with local Tahoma High School by co-creating the curriculum with the plant sciences class.

By collaborating with the teacher, the farm and field manager are teaching three periods with a total of 88 students about the plant families grown on the farm. The course also provides an overview of the emergency food system as well as the ins and outs of running a food bank farm. The students have been coming to the farm weekly for the months of September and October, taking care of their plant families. They have learned to how to use different farm tools, harvest a variety of crops, prepare them for distribution at a food bank, and plant cover crop. Initially there was a learning curve and need for encouragement for the students, but after a couple weeks, each class has taken more ownership of their plant families and have become more confident working at the farm. They have helped the farm harvest about 1400 pounds of food for six food banks. Some students have even started to volunteer at the farm during the farm’s volunteering hours. As the school year progresses, the students will learn about soil biology and advise the farm staff on how to amend the Elk Run Farm’s soil, plan crops, and advise on how to plant and cultivate next year’s produce.

Most importantly, this collaboration has given the opportunity for the farm staff to work with a consistent set of students and to start building relationships with them. By fostering a basic understanding of how their food is grown and increasing their community engagement through the food banks, Elk Run Farm hopes to provide an outdoor classroom for these students and expand a strong and mutually beneficial partnership.

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